by Choices Teaching Fellow Rita Jordan-Keller

As an enthusiastic supporter of Choices curriculum, it has been my passion to introduce the many units of Choices to my students with new and innovative approaches. As a Choices Teaching Fellow, it has been exciting to include and expand the uses of technology in various ways to optimize the experience that my students have with the many different units provided by Choices.

My School

I teach at Ridley High School which is a suburban school about fives miles outside of Philadelphia. We have approximately 2,100 students who come from various socio-economic backgrounds, mostly lower middle class families. Currently, I teach Human Geography to 9th grade students, Sociology and International Relations to juniors and seniors. As a Social Studies teacher for over 25 years, I have experienced and witnessed the many changes and challenges of engaging students with different courses involved in such a wide and diverse department. I have also seen that technology, in particular with *Canvas can be a vital tool in the classroom and enrich a student’s understanding about the world. Two years ago, our administration mandated that every student would have an iPad so I feel fortunate that our students have daily and quick access to global events.

International Relations

I would like to share some of the teaching strategies that I have used in our International Relations class. With global events and human crisis impacting our world every day, I have found Competing Vision of Human Rights  to be one of our fundamental units in the International Relations class. Whether it is the suffering of Syrian and Yemen refugees, the brutality of ISIS, or the despair of kidnapped young women and girls in Nigeria, the policies of the United States with regard to human rights are complicated and should be examined and evaluated.

*Note: At Ridley High School, we use Canvas Instructure with our students and teachers. For those of you unfamiliar with Canvas, it is a relatively new learning management system. It is known for its user-friendly online environment. It includes basic functions such as sharing documents, submitting assignments, and assigning grades, as well as personalized features for individual students.

Ideas for Integrating Technology

What I would like to share with you in this blog are some ideas and suggestions that might be helpful if you would like to integrate technology using Competing Vision of Human Rights. Let me be clear though, it is not necessary that teachers have the resources of Canvas or iPads in the classroom. However, if you have access to laptops or occasionally iPads, you may wish to add these ideas and suggestions.

Philosophical Chairs

These suggestions apply to my International Relations course where students are from 10th to 12th grade. First, a non-tech opener for the Human Rights unit is the worksheet that I call Philosophical Chairs. I use this assignment successfully for all the Choices units for different courses. On page 56 of the Teacher Resource Book, there is a student handout entitled, “Focusing Your Thoughts.” I use this assignment twice. Initially, I instruct the students to respond to the beliefs in this handout. Students then stand and take a position in the classroom on either side of the room either supporting or opposing the particular belief. Those students who are unsure stand in the middle of the classroom listening to both sides that are given turns to speak. Students who are unsure must move at some point when they are swayed to one side or another. Students seem to enjoy this fiery exchange of thoughts and ideas while discussing controversial approaches involving the United States. In this way, I can gauge and learn the pre-knowledge of my students. It is after the Choices role play that we revisit “Focusing Your Thoughts” and see if students have changed their attitudes about U.S. policies and human rights.

Pre-Reading Strategies

With the use of Canvas, I have the ability to set up discussion assignments using the questions in the text for students to consider such as, “How do national governments ensure human rights”? Having a student post his or her response and then responding to another student’s post expands the conversations and insures that everyone is involved. I then display students’ responses on a screen for all to see and discuss or inquire further what a particular response may mean. Throughout the entire unit, the use of discussion assignments from time to time adds substance and clarity to complex questions involving Human Rights.

Expressing Human Rights and Social Movements

A particular activity in the Competing Vision of Human Rights unit that I focus on is “Expressing Human Rights and Social Movements.” My instruction begins with an overview of basic Human Rights agreements including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. After further discussion regarding the role of national governments, the United Nations and other promoters of human rights, I use various YouTube videos such as Amnesty International’s Price of Silence and other musical videos to create a “hook” to engage students. Playing for Change is a wonderful web site that introduces worldwide musicians who advocate for peaceful change and human rights.

As a homework or class assignment, I have students research a particular social movement throughout history such as the civil rights movement, women’s movement, the GLBT movement, the Arab Spring, the Iranian Green Revolution or other global social movements. Students create a brief overview using Google Slides or another free presentation apps.  I use Flowvella for brief presentations and have found this format to be easy and quick. It also utilizes multimedia such as images and videos. Students can present their mini-presentations from their laptops or by using Canvas. Another possibility is having students take a “museum tour” of social movements. Students can walk through the room examining each other’s presentations on laptops or iPads and answer some brief questions about each one.

There is much more that a teacher can do with digital tools with this particular part unit. See additional ideas and suggestions.

Extension and Enrichment

Finally, since I teach the Human Rights as my last unit for the semester in International Relations, I extend the unit and add an enrichment that serves as our Final Exam for the course. Personally, I take exceptional joy at what my students have created in the past few years with the Human Rights Project. Briefly, students research different human rights organizations throughout the world and create a presentation to the class. As part of their final exam, students are also required to contact the organization, request more information, and create a flier informing others about the good work going on and how they can help. Their Human Rights fliers are then set up in our school cafeteria to inform others on how they can help. Much of their research and ideas have been inspired from what they have learned from Competing Vision of Human Rights.

It is my hope that you find these ideas and suggestions helpful in your classroom. Over the years working with the different Choices curriculum units, I have found my students to be more engaged in learning, developing and deepening their critical thinking skills and become more informed about the many challenges facing us all in this world. For me, the best part of my teaching is working with such promising young people and a curriculum that is current, thought provoking and enriches the lives of my students! The Choices curriculum fulfills all that and more!

If you have questions or comments about this blog post, I invite you to email me at rjordan-k@ridleysd.org.